A 67-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease was found dead in a partially frozen pond Tuesday morning, hours after she was reported missing from a home in Burke, Virginia, Fairfax County police said.
Frances Robinson was last seen at midnight in a home in the 6100 block of Meadowpond Court. When her family woke up at about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, they noticed she was gone and called police.
Robinson, who had Alzheimer’s, was not wearing a coat when she disappeared, police said on Twitter Tuesday morning. Temperatures dropped below freezing overnight, reaching 20 degrees, Storm Team4 says.
Patrol officers checked numerous walking paths in the area Tuesday morning and found Robinson's body in the shallow part of a neighborhood pond at 6 a.m. The scene is less than a mile from where the woman was last seen.
Robert Koester, author of the book “Lost Person Behavior," told News4 dementia patients follow the same patterns when they wander away.
They walk in a relatively straight line until they bump into something, at which point they will stare at the object or lay down if they’re tired.
“They won’t even think of turning around,” Koester explained.
Since most dementia patients tend to be older, they typically take the path of least resistance -- sticking to roads and trails that go downhill. That often leads to water, which Koester said many mistakenly believe will be an easy, flat place to walk.
"Check on your elderly family members. Check on your elderly neighbors. In freezing temperatures, time is critical when they go missing," a spokeswoman for Fairfax County police said at a news conference Tuesday. "Hopefully, this doesn't happen to anyone else this winter."
Earlier this year, the Montgomery County Police Department shared seven ways you can help authorities find a loved one with dementia:
- Get an ID bracelet engraved with contact information and make them wear it. Police “often locate the individual before caregivers realize they’re missing,” Reyes said. Write their name on their clothing using permanent ink. Other experts also suggest purchasing a GPS tracking bracelet.
- Make it difficult for them to wander. Install an alarm if possible.
- Reach out to neighbors for support. Here’s a sample letter from MCPD you can use.
- Take full-length and a head-shot photos. Store them electronically so they can be sent to police quickly.
- Create a 911 “script” or form filled with details about your loved one and where they live, including a Google map of the area showing bodies of water. Do not hesitate to tell police about the dangers of drowning.
- Register your loved one with the police if they offer the service.
- Call 911 as soon as you can.